Big Little Lies
Credit: Jennifer Clasen/HBO

Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 5 of Big Little Lies, “Kill Me.” Read at your own risk.

Big Little Lies’ Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) doesn’t need any help being a passive-aggressive barracuda (are those native to Monterey Bay?) — but that doesn’t stop her from recruiting pitbull lawyer Ira Ferber (Denis O’Hare) to help make her guardianship case against Celeste (Nicole Kidman).

In episode 5, things got even uglier as Celeste faced off against her mother-in-law at their first hearing in front of a judge. Ira made a settlement offer, suggesting a custody split where Mary Louise takes the boys on weekends and Celeste during the week, per the stipulation that she seek treatment for drug and alcohol dependence, as well as anger management. Celeste didn’t take kindly to this suggestion, absolutely refusing the possibility of any joint custody — and mistrusting her lawyer’s instincts to keep quiet in the meanwhile.

Elsewhere, other domestic battles rage, as Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) struggles to come to terms with her own abusive past and reconcile it with her love for her ailing mother (Crystal Fox). Renata (Laura Dern) makes Amabella (Ivy George) play hooky for a day in continued efforts to cope with not being rich anymore, and Ed (Adam Scott) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) attend a couples’ therapy retreat in Big Sur that is far too crunchy for both of them. And if the seaweed wasn’t hitting the rocks enough already, Bonnie spies Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) new beau walking out of the police station at episode’s end.

To get the details on where we go from here and how much uglier things might get, we called up Denis O’Hare, the man behind Monterey’s most fearsome family lawyer. So, crank up some Carole King and get ready to throw your ice cream cone (RIP iconic ice cream throwing scene that did not make the final cut), as we delve into the legal technicalities of episode 5.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Things got really ugly this week between Mary Louise and Celeste. Is this the peak of their nastiness or are they going to get even uglier?
DENIS O’HARE: Oh no, it’ll get much worse. It’ll get much, much worse. There is a huge scene in episode 6, the penultimate episode. Obviously, neither party is willing to back down, and so, these things inevitably end up in court. It’s a pretty dramatic showdown in court. It’s kind of why I took the job — [there’s] an amazing scene between Nicole and I that goes on for like 13 pages. It’s pretty crazy.

Your character did try to warn Mary Louise how bad this could get. Do you think he sees both sides?
He’s a really good lawyer and he really knows this territory well. He assumes that it will end up being negotiated before they get to court. But I also think that he believes when they go to court, he’ll win. He’s fairly certain of a) his own abilities and b) of the facts of the case.

How much might your character know or suspect about Perry’s death? Is that likely to come out as this moves forward?
He’s a smart enough lawyer that he is going to use anything to impeach the witness knowing that some of the information, even though it’s pretty dramatic, might end up being irrelevant in a weird way. There are definitely going to be some feints in a direction that seems pretty scary for Nicole’s character.

Celeste seems very concerned that you know the Monterey Five’s story is a lie and are getting help from the police. Is she right to have that concern?
It’s a small community, up and down the coast. And this lawyer obviously would’ve heard anything and everything about the ongoing investigation. Anything that can help this case, he’s going to, of course, look into. It’s funny; I did quite a bit of research on this and then I also talked to David Kelley and the on-set lawyer. These guys tend to want to settle out of court. Because no one benefits from a slugfest. The kids are not going to do well when both parties are grievously injured and have no ability to come back. What you want for kids is the ability for all the concerned parent types to have a relationship of some kind, that’s what I got from reading and listening to a lot of these lawyers.

We see Celeste if not outright coaching the boys, then at least, advising them on what to say about where they want to live. How likely are you to use that against her in the future?
It’s pretty tricky because she has a right as a parent to advocate for herself. She also has a legal mind and is a lawyer by training. Yeah, it’s ethically suspect but I would assume from her point of view, it’s all more than fair game to weigh in with her kids and to try to help them understand it from her point of view. It’s not even like she’s being tricky. In a weird way, she’s simply representing her point of view, and how could she help but represent her own point of view?

We see Corey at the police station at the end of the episode. Can you tease what that might mean and if you are involved in that in any way through the Ziggy connection?
I’ll just say that I don’t have any crossover with that character, and even though I’ve read the script, I will plead the fifth.

Was it a high point of your career to act opposite Meryl?
Oh, totally. I met her through the years on several occasions. I worked with Mamie [Gummer], her daughter, on Uncle Vanya [at Classic Stage Company off-Broadway]. And I had the great pleasure of having Meryl Streep come backstage afterward to tell us how good we were… Of course, I’ve admired her for years and we have friends in common, so I was just glad to have the opportunity to work with her for multiple scenes over multiple weeks. That was really great because you get beyond your first nervous interactions and get into something that approximates a casual, more relaxed working relationship. She’s obviously always at the height of her game, so it scares you into being really, really, really well prepared.

Can you say more about your research for the role and how that informed things?
I’m always looking for the human behind these characters, and I don’t think anybody is a villain. I wanted to make sure this lawyer, even though he’s her hired pitbull, is a real human being. I love that he gets to say to her in that early scene, “Look, you don’t want to go down this path. This is not the way to do it.” And when she says, “I know what I want, I know what I’m doing,” he goes, “Great fine, I’ll do it. I’m your guy.”

You’ve appeared on both This Is Us and Big Little Lies. Who would win in a fight between the Pearsons and the Monterey Five?
Oh God, the Monterey Five would win in a heartbeat. They would plow the Pearsons under — those poor, innocent, naïve, lovely people would be destroyed in moments.

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